I hadn’t gone to a Toys R Us in years.
I’m older now, I don’t have any kids, and focused on “adulting”. I didn’t have any need for toys in my life. It’s funny that I say that, but still find myself distracted by action figures and Nerf guns when I go to yard sales. When I saw that Toys R Us was reorganizing, it at first made sense. Physical retail stores have been having a hard time in the wake of the internet. After all, with the ease of internet ordering you don’t even have to put on pants to click a mouse button or press a touch screen. I looked through the news articles about the restructuring to see what stores were closing and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the one close to me was staying open. Then the articles about all of the stores closing came. And for some reason, I found myself devastated. I was baffled. Here it is, a man who society had deemed “grown” heartbroken about the closing of a chain of toy stores. I needed to know why all of a sudden I felt so strongly.
My mother raised me by herself. For the majority of the time she was on disability, things were always really tight. She was always insistent on trying to create memories for me, and always looking for new ways to provide to create those memories. I could always tell around Christmas time she worried about providing a “Special Christmas” for me. Even though I was the kind of child amused by cardboard, she always wanted to get me something new. During one of her searches she won a radio contest for a shopping spree to Toys R Us. I imagine that she must have been excited. She, of course, didn’t tell me at the time, mostly to keep it a surprise for the holidays. She told me later that she had to call my grandmother to take her to spend the Geoffrey Dollars she won. My mother also shared them with her to help provide for a Christmas for one of my cousins. 22 years later and I can still remember a soft smile on her tired face as I ripped through the neatly wrapped packages. Happy that I was happy.
one of my aunts would watch me so my mother could take a break. She would take me to Toys R Us to always pick a new toy for the weekend. I remember she would always get me those Tiger Electronic handhelds. Those trips were so simple. But, I still remember them today. I even have one of those little handhelds buried away in a storage tub, in a storage building on the other side of town. A small reminder of those simple memories.
When we moved to a new state,
Pokemon was all the rage, I was a fiend for it. Those cute pictures of monsters printed on cardboard compelled me to wake up early every Saturday morning and go to the local Toys R Us to play in their Pokemon league. My mother didn’t really care for the game at first, but soon even she was collecting cards. It was one of the few places I felt I could really kind of “nerd out”. I was playing with other kids who liked something as much as me.
When I talked to my mother about the closing of Toys R Us she mentioned how one time before we moved, she had saved some money to help plan a Christmas for a friend of hers. She sounded so excited to tell me. A memory from all those years ago still made her happy. It was that moment I realized why I was so heartbroken. Toys R Us was a place of magic for children and a way for adults to impart that idea of magic to them. Employees would help parents and guardians hide surprises from eager children, and even guide parents to the perfect gifts for their children. It was understood by everyone that Toys R Us was special. It wasn’t special because it was a store, it was special because those purchases help people create memories. Walking through those doors let you know something special was going to happen, whether you were a child or an adult or if you worked there it gave you the chance to help make so many people happy.
The last month and a half before they shuttered
the doors to Toy R Us, I desperately chased that idea of magic. Scouring the ever-depleting stock and empty shelves, looking for a memento for an intangible feeling, hoping somehow the perfect toy, poster, or even piece of signage would encapsulate and summarize all those feelings of so many years. As I walked through the different stores, I called my mother on the phone. Walking is hard for her, and often has a lot of trouble getting around when she leaves her home. I knew that the store meant something to her as well, so I wanted to make sure I could at least share those last days of the store with her. We shared our memories of days of past, and I kept trying to figure out what she would want to remember the store. All the Geoffrey themed merchandise was completely gone at three of the stores close to me. In desperation, two weeks before they would close the doors for good, I found Toys R Us branded umbrellas. Two for me and two for my mother. I visited her to drop them off and some of the other things I picked up for her. She was so excited for those umbrellas. She kept telling me how she was excited to use them the next time she went out. I told her I got her two, so she keeps one as a way to remember the store.
It reminded me of Christmas mornings all those years ago, where the sun would slide into our living room through the cracks in our curtains as it mixes and fades the colored Christmas lights, as someone tries to explain the gravity of the moment, to explain the meaning of the gift, but is overcome by the happiness and joy of the person receiving the gift. An idea of one sacrificing time and resources for one that they love, to do good for someone else or even helping someone create a memory that will stay with them. To create happiness. To capture the simple magic of going to a toy store.
When he’s not digging through bins at the local flea market, Donald Paris is a contributing editor for The NES Page. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte in 2015, and his non-gaming-related work has appeared in several literary journals. His gaming-related work can also be found on East Coast Games. He spends most of his time dissecting video games. All while looking for the next exciting piece of video game history. He is also a graduate fellow of The Watering Hole